Wines from the Barossa are Australia’s ambassadors, bringing the country’s sunny warmth to tables around the world. The region itself is increasingly visited—a trend that’s sure to accelerate as Australia’s tourism campaign places greater emphasis on the country’s food and wine culture.
Any South Australian will proudly let you know that its first European settlers were not convicts like those in Victoria or New South Wales. Many of the newcomers to the Barossa were Silesian Lutherans seeking religious freedom. That initial influx in the first half of the 19th century continues to mark the region, giving it a unique flavor.
Where to Dine
Many of the Barossa’s cellar doors offer lunch and snacks in addition to tastings. Thursday through Sunday, take a long lunch at Hentley Farm’s restaurant, or reserve for Saturday night—the only night they’re open for dinner—well in advance. For more conventional hours, visit 1918 Bistro & Grill, where the simplest dishes are often the best. The finest dining is at Appellation (dinners only), where Executive Chef Ryan Edwards emphasizes local ingredients like sausages and bacon from Linke’s Central Meat Store in Nuriootpa.
Where to Stay
Folks often come to the Barossa just for the day, as it’s an easy hour-long excursion from Adelaide. To make the most of your visit, however, stay overnight. For pure luxury, The Louiseis the top pick. Each suite boasts its own outdoor shower, plus a whirlpool tub in a bathroom bigger than many Manhattan apartments. The Novotel Barossa Valley Resort, next to the Tanunda Pines Golf Club, has an Endota Spa onsite.
Menglers Hill Lookout offers a terrific vista over the entire valley and a noteworthy sculpture park. Don’t miss the Barossa Farmers Market on Saturday mornings for breakfast and a colorful, all-encompassing view of the region’s bounty. Celebrity locavore Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop is the birthplace of the movement in Australia.
If you’re planning to stay a week or so, rent a cottage and serve your own meals alongside wines purchased from the day’s cellar-door visits.
When to Go
There’s no bad time, but winters can be cool and damp, while summers are hot, but dry.
Local in the Know
Stephen and Prue Henschke (Stephen’s family are fifth-generation Barossans), suggest an afternoon in Kaiserstuhl Conservation Park admiring the native flowers and kangaroos while walking the trails. “Some of our favourite dining spots are Ferment Asian, Appellation, Vintners Bar & Grill and 1918 Bistro & Grill, and we’re looking forward to trying Casa Carboni soon.” While all of them support local wineries, “Ferment Asian has an incredible list,” says Stephen. The Henschkes also suggest visiting some of the beautiful Lutheran churches, South Australia National Trust properties, like Collingrove Homestead, and sampling the foodstuffs turned out by the region’s traditional German butchers and bakers.
Where to Taste
Nearly every winery has some sort of cellar-door operation, ranging from a simple tasting bar to more elaborate settings, including tours and cafés. For historic interest and great wines, Rockford, Seppeltsfield, Henschke and Yalumba should be at the top of any list. See the traditional open-top slate fermenters and large oak casks at Rockford and purchase as much of the Basket Press Shiraz as you can—it’s no longer available in the U.S. At Seppeltsfield, cruise past the palm trees and sample the incredible range of fortifieds. Splurge on a Para Tawny from a milestone year, like a birth year or anniversary. Henschke’s tiny cellar door in the Eden Valley often has some gems open for tasting. Yalumba has its own cooperage and a vast array of wines on offer. At relatively new producers like Two Hands and Torbreck, seize the opportunity to taste Ares and RunRig for a fraction of the price of a full bottle.
Shiraz is the variety most closely linked to the Barossa—justifiably so. The stereotype of massive, jammy wines lingers, but Australian vintners are increasing seeking out finesse and elegance. Grenache and Mataro (Mourvèdre) also feature prominently in the vinous landscape, and can make stellar wines. Cabernet Sauvignon can be tricky because of the heat, but shines in some subregions and vintages. Lest one think of Barossa as red-wine-only country, remember that it includes not only the Barossa Valley, but also the higher-altitude Eden Valley, home to some of Australia’s best Rieslings. A young Eden Valley Riesling and a plate of Coffin Bay oysters is a terrific way to start a Barossa meal.